The U.S. Forest Service plans to cut about 14,000 acres of trees near communities and in more than 350 recreation sites as it deals with damage from an insect epidemic that has killed millions of acres of pines in Colorado and Wyoming.
The agency has mapped out the projects in response to questions from U.S. Sen. Mark Udall about how $30 million will be spent on Colorado’s bark beetle problem. The Colorado Democrat said in June that he was worried the money might not be enough to address the problem.
People in communities near the hardest-hit areas were also concerned about problems with beetle-killed trees falling and quickly burning in case of wildfire, said Doug Young of Udall’s staff.
“There was a concern that, ‘Hey, we got this money and trees are starting to fall,'” Young said Tuesday.
Udall asked for an accounting of how the money was being spent.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, announced late last year that it would funnel $40 million to the Rockies to attack the beetle problem. Of that, $30 million will be used to cut infested trees and for other work in Colorado’s White River, Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapahoe and Roosevelt and White River national forests.
Spending planned this year and next in Colorado includes $7.75 million to clear dead trees along 639 miles of roads, $2.19 million to clear 239 miles of trails, $15.3 million to cut beetle-killed trees on 15,000 acres and $2.73 million dollars to clear hazards at 210 recreation sites.
The rest of the money will be used in beetle-ravaged areas in Wyoming and the Blacks Hills in western South Dakota. A national team of experts is helping the Forest Service manage the attack against the pine beetle infestation.
The Forest Service has identified the trouble spots it will focus on, Young said.
“We now have a fairly good level of precision in where they’re planning to apply the money,” Young said.
However, most of the money hasn’t been spent yet.
“It can take some time for an agency to identify areas and go through the process of environmental analysis and review,” Young said.
Last week, the regional Forest Service office in Denver said the agency has removed beetle-killed trees from 268 campgrounds and along 89 miles of trails over the past nine months. Forest managers said contractors have removed beetle-infested trees from along 258 miles of roads.
Udall will continue to monitor the pace of the work and try to help with any obstacles, Young said.
The senator has also said that more money is needed to respond to the epidemic that has killed more than 3.5 million acres of pine trees in Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. He is sponsoring a bill to provide more funds and streamline projects aimed at clearing out dead trees that forest managers say pose a wildfire risk and threaten recreation areas, roads, power lines and people when they fall.
Bark-beetle killed trees were fueling a 100-acre wildfire burning west of Laramie, Wyo., on Wednesday but infested trees weren’t a factor a 6,168-acre wildfire in the Boulder foothills. That fire is burning at lower elevations in ponderosa pine trees, well to the east of stands of infected lodgepole pine, said Ryan Lockwood, a spokesman for the Colorado State Forest Service.
Some researchers don’t believe that the beetles increase chances of wildfires. They argue that lodgepole pine are fire-prone anyway and that climate _ hot, dry weather _ is the driver behind forest fires.
The beetles burrow into the trees and lay eggs, eventually killing the trees. The bugs have infested forests in some of the region’s most scenic areas, including Colorado mountain resorts and Rocky Mountain National Park.
While bark beetle infestations are considered part of natural cycles, experts say drought and warmer temperatures make the current outbreak worse. The region hasn’t had prolonged freezing temperatures that would help kill the bugs, and drought has weakened the trees.
Other Western states with beetle infestations are Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. More than 30 million acres have been affected in western Canada.